COVID-19 update: PM Trudeau to address nation at 10:15 a.m. CT

By | March 24, 2020

The latest: 

A small number of MPs are back in Ottawa today, a day after provincial governments in Ontario and Quebec issued orders calling for the closure of non-essential businesses in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The MPs are returning to vote on measures to spend billions on aid for families and businesses struggling to cope as the coronavirus outbreak hammers the economy.  Cases of COVID-19 have been reported in people in every province and territory except Nunavut. Ontario and Quebec, along with B.C., have reported the most cases to date.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Tuesday that Canadians have “overwhelmingly” risen to the challenges presented by COVID-19.

Scheer said all parties recognize that these are “unprecedented times” that require urgent action. He said his party would work to get measures passed to ensure funding flows to Canadians who need it — but he also noted that Conservatives would continue to ask “tough questions” about how the crisis is being handled by the Trudeau government.

“We’ve already pointed out some gaps that we believe should be addressed,” he said, including a call for the government to increase the support it is offering small businesses.

Conservatives want to ensure Tuesday’s bill is focused on measures that help Canadians, Scheer said, adding that all other conversations about new powers for the government need to be part of a separate discussion.

The message from cities and provinces — to stay home, keep a safe distance from others and avoid groups — is also coming straight from the prime minister. 

On Monday, Justin Trudeau urged people to “go home and stay home.” 

“This is what we all need to be doing, and we’re going to make sure this happens, whether by educating people more on the risks, or by enforcing the rules, if that’s needed,” Trudeau said at his daily briefing. “Nothing that could help is off the table.”   

The federal government has so far declined to invoke the Emergencies Act, which gives it temporary authority to do things like restrict travel and impose fines if people don’t comply with rules issued under the act. But at least one premier, New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs, has said a federal emergency declaration would allow for a more unified national response.

Not long after Trudeau spoke on Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that all non-essential stores and businesses in Canada’s most populous province would be ordered to close for 14 days.

“This decision was not made lightly, and the gravity of this order does not escape me,” Ford said.  

Quebec made a similar move, opting to halt all but essential services. The province is effectively “on hold” until April 13, Premier François Legault said as he announced the latest measures.

Summer Olympics delayed

The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 382,000 people and killed over 16,500 worldwide. COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, results in mild or moderate symptoms in most people — but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems. More than 101,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

The pandemic has led to border restrictions and business closures — and now, it has led to the postponement of the 2020 Olympics.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday the International Olympic Committee president has agreed to delay the Summer Games amid growing concern about the coronavirus outbreak that has infected hundreds of thousands of people around the world. The announcement came a day after Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic committees announced that they would not be sending athletes to Tokyo this summer if the Games went ahead as planned.

Abe said IOC president Thomas Bach is “in agreement 100 per cent” about the decision. The prime minister said the decision to postpone makes it possible “for athletes to play in the best condition and to make the event a safe and secure one for spectators.”

WHO chief says pandemic is ‘accelerating’

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that the pandemic is “accelerating.” 

“It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach the first 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000 cases and just four days for the third 100,000 cases. You can see how the virus is accelerating,” he said.

But he noted that people and governments aren’t “helpless bystanders” to the outbreak.

“We can change the trajectory of this pandemic.”

He said defensive measures like social distancing are important, but urged an “attack” as well. Tedros urged governments to test every suspected case, isolate and care for every confirmed case and find and quarantine close contacts of COVID-19 patients.

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The WHO chief also expressed concern about rising case numbers among health-care workers.

“Even if we do everything else right, if we don’t prioritize protecting health workers, many people will die because the health worker who could have saved their life is sick,” he said.

On Tuesday, after more than a week in which China said the vast majority of new virus cases were imported from abroad, authorities said the restrictions in Hubei would end. People cleared by health authorities would be able to leave the province after midnight. The city of Wuhan itself will remain locked down until April 8.

Read on for a look at what’s happening in Canada’s provinces and territories, the U.S. and around the world.

Here’s what’s happening in the provinces and territories

In British Columbia, the premier announced a $5 billion coronavirus relief plan. The plan, which Finance Minister Carole James described as a “first step, but a critical step” includes funding for people whose livelihoods have been impacted by the coronavirus fallout, as well as for businesses. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

Alberta’s top public health official says her team is closely tracking community transmission, saying “that is our biggest concern.” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said there are existing measures to deal with returning travellers, a message Premier Jason Kenney reiterated Monday when he urged people returning home from the U.S. to take self-isolation seriously, saying it isn’t a “vague general hint or suggestion.” Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer says he’s pleased to see social distancing happening, which could help flatten the curve. Dr. Saqib Shahab also noted that the province is “at a critical point now because most of the cases are still either travel or related to [past] large events.” Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

A worker is pictured at Vancouver’s first drive-thru COVID-19 testing site for health-care workers on Monday. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

In Manitoba, officials say people arriving in the province should self-isolate for 14 days — even if their travel was inside Canada. There are some exceptions, including truckers and people who live on one side of a provincial border and work on the other. But chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Monday: “I want to make it clear that this is not just a suggestion.” Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is ordering all non-essential businesses to close, but says people will still be able to buy food, medicine and other essentials. “Every Ontarian must do their part. If you can, please stay home, only leave if necessary,” the premier said. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario, including a temporary hydro rate reduction.

Quebec moved to close non-essential businesses amid growing concern about community transmission of COVID-19, Premier François Legault said Monday, noting that people would still be able to get essential supplies. “It’s time also for the government to act in a decisive manner. We must put Quebec on pause until Easter.” Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.

New Brunswick’s premier wants to see a national approach to stopping COVID-19. Premier Blaine Higgs said he’s in favour of the prime minister invoking the Emergencies Act, saying it would unify the approach to handling the growing outbreak. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.

Children in Nova Scotia likely won’t be back in class in early April, the province’s top public health official says. “I just need to signal to people that this is in all likelihood not just a two-week period. It’s longer than that,” Dr. Robert Strang said Monday. Read more about what’s happening in N.S., where police say they will move cautiously on enforcing rules under the province’s state of emergency.

Prince Edward Island has set up a “strict” system of fines for people who aren’t following rules aimed at stamping out COVID-19. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s government is ordering more businesses closed as the province sees more cases of COVID-19. “We are actively considering further actions to reduce our risk,” chief medical officer of health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.

Nunavut is closing its border to all but returning residents and critical workers in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Northwest Territories government is closing a major highway and Yukon is dealing with its first reported cases of COVID-19 after a couple returned from the U.S. Read more about what’s happening in the North.

As of Tuesday at 6:30 a.m. ET, Canada had nearly 2,100 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19. Here’s a look at the number of cases — including deaths and recoveries — by province.

  • British Columbia: 472  confirmed cases, including 100 resolved and 13 deaths.
  • Ontario: 504 confirmed cases, including eight resolved and six deaths.
  • Alberta: 301 confirmed cases, including three resolved and one death.
  • Quebec: 628 confirmed cases, including one resolved and four deaths.
  • Saskatchewan: 66 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Manitoba: 20 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • New Brunswick: 17 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Nova Scotia: 41 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Prince Edward Island: Three cases the province lists as positive.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 24 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Northwest Territories: One confirmed case.
  • Yukon: Two confirmed cases.
  • Repatriated Canadians: 13 confirmed cases.

Presumptive cases are individuals who have tested positive, but still await confirmation with the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg. Not all provinces are listing figures on those who have recovered. The recent COVID-19 related death of a Canadian in Japan is not currently included in the province-by-province tally of cases.

Here’s what’s happening in the U.S.

WATCH | Trump wants to ease COVID-19 restrictions, get Americans back to work:

U.S. President Donald Trump is talking about ways to ease restrictions in place to reduce further spread of COVID-19 and getting people back to work. 1:59

From The Associated Press, updated at 5:30 a.m. ET

Top congressional and White House officials negotiating the $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package say they expect to reach a deal sometime Tuesday. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer say they spoke by phone with President Donald Trump as they met late into the night at the Capitol.

While the sides have resolved many issues in the sweeping package, some disagreements remain. Washington has been straining to respond to the worsening coronavirus outbreak, and tempers in Congress have flared at times. 

Meantime, Trump is musing openly about letting a 15-day shutdown expire next Monday.

The scramble to marshal public health and political resources intensified in New York, where a statewide lockdown took effect Monday amid worries the city of 8.4 million is becoming one of the world’s biggest hot spots. More than 12,000 people have tested positive in the city and almost 100 have died.

The mayor warned that the city’s hospitals are just 10 days away from shortages in basic supplies, while the state’s governor announced plans to convert a New York City convention centre into a hospital.

“This is going to get much worse before it gets better,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Here’s what’s happening in Europe

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From The Associated Press, updated at 9:30 a.m. ET

Confusion rippled through Britain on the first morning after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a three-week halt to all non-essential activity to fight the spread of the new coronavirus. The government has told most stores to close, banned gatherings of three or more people and said everyone apart from essential workers should leave home only to buy food and medicines or to exercise.

But photos showed crowded trains on some London subway lines Tuesday, amid confusion about who is still allowed to go to work. London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted: “I cannot say this more strongly: we must stop all non-essential use of public transport now. Employers: please support your staff to work from home unless it’s absolutely necessary. Ignoring these rules means more lives lost.” The government says police will have powers to break up illegal gatherings and fine people who flout the rules. But some expressed doubts about whether the lockdown could be enforced.

In Italy, declines in both new cases and deaths for a second consecutive day provided a faint glimmer of hope. Officials said Monday that the virus had claimed just over 600 more lives, down from 793 two days earlier. The outbreak has killed more than 6,000 Italians, the highest death toll of any country, and pushed the health system to the breaking point there and in Spain.

In Spain, Madrid’s ice-skating rink is now being used as a makeshift morgue given the rapid increase in deaths in the Spanish capital owing to the COVID-19 outbreak. Security forces guarded the outside of the Palacio de Hielo complex on Madrid’s northeastern outskirts Tuesday as funeral service vans arrived and entered the building’s underground car park. Madrid is one of the hardest hit of Spain’s 17 regions with some 1,300 deaths, approximately half the national total. Spain announced 6,584 new coronavirus infections Tuesday, bringing the overall total to 39,673. The number of deaths also jumped by a record number of 514 to 2,696. 

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Netherlands rose by 811 on Tuesday, a 17 per cent increase from a day earlier, to a total of 5,560, health authorities said. There were 63 new deaths, the largest increase yet, bringing the country’s total to 276, the National Institute for Health said in a daily update.

Here’s a look at what’s happening elsewhere, including hard-hit areas like Iran and South Korea

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From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 9 a.m. ET

Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak increased by 122 in the past 24 hours to 1,934, Health Ministry spokesperson Kianoush Jahanpour said on Tuesday. The total number of people diagnosed with COVID-19
increased by 1,762 in the past 24 hours, to 24,811, he added on state TV.  There are over 31,000 confirmed cases of the virus across the Mideast, the vast majority in the hard-hit nation of Iran.

South Korea says 19 of 1,444 passengers who arrived from Europe on Sunday were found to have the coronavirus, the first cases detected after authorities began testing all people coming from the continent. South Korean Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho also said Tuesday that 101 of some 1,200 passengers who arrived from Europe on Monday have exhibited fever or respiratory symptoms. South Korea says it will fully fund the treatment for virus carriers regardless of their nationality. Even if they test negative, South Korean nationals arriving from Europe or foreigners who enter the country from Europe on long-term stay visas are required to quarantine themselves at home for two weeks.

A Jordanian policeman stands guard as people stand in line to buy bread from a bus in front of their homes after Jordan announced it would extend a curfew indefinitely, amid concerns over the spread of COVID-19. (Muhammad Hamed/Reuters)

South Africa’s coronavirus cases leapt again to 554 on Tuesday, the most of any country in Africa, as its 57 million people rushed to prepare for a lockdown that begins Thursday. President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday night announced the 21-day lockdown. Rwanda and Tunisia earlier announced lockdowns. Workers in South Africa will be required to stay home except for those in essential services including health care and security, as well as the production and distribution of food, utilities and medical products. Across Africa, 43 of its 54 countries now have cases, with the total at 1,788. Thirteen countries have reported 58 deaths. South Africa has not recorded one.

Egypt will impose a two-week, nightly curfew in the Arab world’s most-populous country in an effort to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, its prime minister announced Tuesday as the International Monetary Fund warned a lack of supplies could affect the Mideast’s poorest nations. Egypt has 366 confirmed cases and 21 fatalities, including two senior military officers. The IMF, which traditionally has urged governments to implement greater austerity measures, now urges Mideast governments to offer temporary tax relief and cash transfers. It also warned a lack of medical supplies could hurt Iraq, Sudan and Yemen if it leads to a surge in prices.

Authorities enforced lockdowns across most of India, Nepal and parts of Pakistan on Tuesday to halt the spread of coronavirus in one of the world’s most densely populated regions, as four NATO personnel tested positive in Afghanistan.

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